Welcome back, readers.
There’s a big bundle of games, art, and other work being put together by some folks on Itch, with the proceeds going towards aid for Palestine via UNRWA. It doesn’t appear to be live yet but when it does go up, this thread from the organizers will be updated. This looks cool!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Our opening act this week brings together a pair of articles examining industrial trends, looking at the current state of crunch and accessibility from an ageing-based perspective, respectively.
- ‘Crunch’ Is No Cheat Code for Better Video Games | Current Affairs
Adis Posko surveys the state of crunch culture in the games industry in 2021, observing that absusing your employees doesn’t lead to better games, and reiterates the call for games workers to organize and for consumers to think critically about their purchases.
- Learning by ageing – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi highlights the need and value for accessibility in games design, both hardware and software, with a specific focus on the needs of ageing players.
“No amount of arcade sticks, collectors editions, and proof of high-level play in “real” games can protect us from this inevitable decline. This isn’t an issue of skill, or patience, or effort – some people just can’t do some things or can but not for as long as a game demands they do, and those of us that can today might not be able to tomorrow for any number of reasons.”
Next up, we’ve got an in-depth segment on narrative design, looking at innovate successes and points of potential cross-media inspiration.
- Righteous Skills | Reverse Shot
Holly Green delves into Disco Elysium‘s unorthodox skill progression system and its impacts on character writing, narrative design, and examinations of dissasociative identity and trauma response.
- Larger-arc contextualization, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – KEITH BURGUN GAMES
Keith Burgun thinks through approaches to synthesizing moment-to-moment gameplay and story beats in games with larger storytelling arcs, looking to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for some of the answers.
- Mass Effect’s Choices Remain Its Greatest Success—And Greatest Failure | Waypoint
Rowan Kaiser weighs choices against responsiveness in understanding Mass Effect‘s true contributions to game design and its enduring popularity over the years.
“The key to choice-based storytelling is not that the choices have effects, then, but that it responds to choices effectively—and that’s what Mass Effect does well consistently across its trilogy, and that’s the key to its decade-plus of popularity.“
Our next segment revolves around grotesque art and bad art, respectively, looking at the historical, cultural, and religious contexts that inform provocative (or in the case of F.A.T.A.L., maybe just tasteless) work.
- Feeling History in Blasphemous: Affective Piety and Our Lady of the Charred Visage | Play the Past
Jack Orchard studies the historical affective piety and religious self-harm–as well as their misogynistic elements–which inform and contextualize the art, architecture, and story world of Blasphemous (content notifications here for dead bodies, and references to self-harm and sexual violence).
- ABSOLUTELY NOT | DEEP HELL
Max Astrophel uses notable very bad TTRPG F.A.T.A.L. as a spirngboard to discuss our cultural fascination with bad media, and bad games in particular (content notification for several mentions of rape and sexual-assault-derived jokes in the game).
“Games have always had a bit of a different relationship to Shitty Art than films or television, our passive-consumption media. Shitty cinema, shitty literature, shitty Youtube comedy is easier to enjoy. Games, video or tabletop, require more active participation – and a bad game is rarely fun to play. F.A.T.A.L. would not be fun to play, not even if you stripped it of every sexual indignity and every affront to human rights. You randomly roll your class – if you happen to get Delouser, well, have fun with your lice-picking RPG.“
Depths of Design
Two authors this week delve into some of the design minutiae of yesteryear titles to get at how they work, or even how they perturb genre conventions.
- An Easygoing Adventure: A review of B.L.U.E. Legend of Water | Vidyasaur
Vidyasaur spends some time with a subnautical hidden gem on PlayStation, examining its mechanical tension and environmental design.
- Why did Dragon Warrior 2 get so hard? | pounded in the butt by the far resounding eoan wave
sraëka-lillian follows the mechanical and narrative throughlines of taking Dragon Warrior 2‘s advice and resisting the genre-spanning impulse to grind.
“Years of playing RPGs have made grinding an instinctual response when I feel underpowered, but I think to indulge that instinct here would have been to misunderstand DW2’s communication, applying genre logic that the game was not actually operating on. Still hoping to see my trust in the game born out (and to escape unnecessary gruntwork), I began to consider: What if I’m just supposed to run from everything?”
Our next two featured authors this week take their discussion of representation in games beneath the surface level. Inclusivity needs to be more than just identities included to check a box; it needs to be real characters with full lives, defined by more than that which makes them marginalized in our own world.
- Ghost of Tsushima and the Importance of Lady Masako’s casual queerness | Gayming Magazine
Eva Herinkova examines how Ghost of Tsushima approaches queer affection without sensationalism and without fanfare.
- Making Phoenix Wright Canonically Asian American and Why That is Important (to Me) | Video Game Choo Choo
Elvie delves into the localization history of the Ace Attorney series, and examines how the the North American version’s transplanted canon might serve as a foundation for establishing a proud and diverse array of Asian-American characters.
“Just make it canon: Phoenix Wright is a Japanese American man. The series’ localization team cannot reset the path they have laid in front of them without destroying it, completely obliterating the composition established in Ace Attorney games for English-speaking fans. Instead, this should be taken as an opportunity to move forward and establish a new normal in order to imagine a future and America where these characters rightfully deserve to be unequivocally and unapologetically Asian in without scrutiny or censorship.”
Next up, a pair of meditations on the Elder Scrolls series, alternately looking at food across Tamriel and how we couldn’t really return to Vvardenfell the way it was even if the Red Mountain hadn’t erupted.
- Eat Your Games: Elder Scrolls Online’s Jewels of Misrule | Sidequest
Sara Davis dips into the culinary worldbuilding of The Elder Scrolls series with a recipe you can try yourself.
- It’s Time to Kill Morrowind in our Minds | Paste
Dia Lacina lays how how we can’t go back to Vvardenfell when the magic and mystery are gone and the things that made it special in the first place wouldn’t survive the transition to our contemporary understanding of the sandbox CRPG.
“We, the Outlanders, made Morrowind our home so thoroughly that it became our prison. And, descending from on high like the great Dagoth Ur, himself Todd Howard was here to set us free the only way he could: by destroying Morrowind.”
This week there’s powerful new poetry out of Videodame to see us out.
- At Two Point Hospital, Everyone Isn’t Family | Videodame
Rachel Tanner, Two Point Hospital.
“I am tired of fighting
with the version of myself
who can see this place
All I want is to turn around.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!